Shade-tol­er­ant plants help to com­plete land­scapes


Plants need sun­light to thrive and grow, but some need less sun­light than oth­ers. Peo­ple who find their land­scapes are less sup­port­ive to sun-lov­ing plants can choose from a va­ri­ety of shade-tol­er­ant plants, shrubs and trees.

Shade tol­er­ance refers to a plant’s abil­ity to with­stand low lev­els of light. Cer­tain plants have adapted this fea­ture to sur­vive in the wild. Plants that grow at the base of for­est floors, for ex­am­ple, will get less sun­light than oth­ers out­side of the tree canopy. Such adap­ta­tions en­able a wide va­ri­ety of fo­liage to grow even though they are not ex­posed to much sun­light.

While sun-lov­ing plants of­ten have broad leaves and ex­pend sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy to cap­ture sun­light for pho­to­syn­the­sis, shadetol­er­ant plants ex­pend less en­ergy and tend to be more efficient con­sumers of soil nu­tri­ents and sun­light.

Penn State Ex­ten­sion’s Plant and Pests di­vi­sion says the amount of shade a plant is grow­ing un­der will di­rectly af­fect the den­sity of the fo­liage and the plant’s flow­er­ing and fruit­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Blend­ing shadetol­er­ant plants into the land­scape can be an ef­fec­tive use of space. Be­fore choos­ing plants for an ex­ist­ing land­scape, it’s im­por­tant to as­sess the level of shade or sun the plants will re­ceive.

· Heavy shade: Heavy shade is when no di­rect sun­light reaches a plant. This oc­curs at the base of north­ern­fac­ing walls or be­neath thick tree canopies.

· Full sun: Ar­eas that re­ceive full sun en­joy di­rect sun­light be­tween six and eight hours per day.

· Mod­er­ate shade: These sites have re­flected sun­light that may come off of wa­ter fea­tures.

· Light shade: Plants in these ar­eas will get par­tially fil­tered or dap­pled sun­light.

Once home­own­ers un­der­stand which type of shade they are deal­ing with, they can then visit plant nurs­eries and se­lect their plants. Most green­ery comes with care in­struc­tions that in­clude rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the amount of shade/sun­light the plant will need to do well. If fur­ther as­sis­tance is needed, a knowl­edge­able em­ployee can make sug­ges­tions based on land­scape needs.

Those who are looking for some pre­lim­i­nary guid­ance when it comes to se­lect­ing shadetol­er­ant shrubs, plants or trees can con­sult the fol­low­ing list.

· Bleed­ing heart: Bleed­ing heart, or Di­cen­tra spectabilis, is typ­i­cally found in woodlands. It’s a peren­nial in the poppy fam­ily that pro­duces mounded fo­liage and arch­ing vine-like stems of heart-shaped flow­ers in the spring.

· Amethyst flower: Browal­lia hy­brids of­fer star-shaped blooms of blue and vi­o­let. These plants will bil­low out of hang­ing bas­kets or con­tain­ers, and they pre­fer warm shade or fil­tered sun­light.

· Coleus: The coleus, Solenos­te­mon scutel­lar­i­oides, is an­other peren­nial that can have a va­ri­ety of different leaf col­ors and stri­a­tions.

· Witch hazels: These are a genus in the fam­ily Ha­mamel­i­dacea, which has four different species in North Amer­ica. This shrub or small tree fea­tures arch­ing branches with dense, multi-stemmed clumps. Witch hazel pro­duces flow­ers in the late au­tumn when most other plants are sparse.

· Bay­berry: Myrica pen­syl­van­ica can grow in par­tial shade as a hedge or nat­u­ral prop­erty di­vider. The leaves of this shrub are aro­matic when crushed. The shrub will pro­duce tiny, gray/white fruits in late sum­mer.

· English Ivy: Also known as Hed­era helix, this trail­ing plant is widely cul­ti­vated as an or­na­men­tal plant. It will spread eas­ily and can become in­va­sive.

Those search­ing for shade-tol­er­ant trees can choose among Sugar maple, Black alder, Flow­er­ing dog­wood, and White spruce, among oth­ers.

Shade-tol­er­ant plants can make wel­come ad­di­tions to the land­scape, of­fer­ing green­ery and color in the darker ar­eas of a prop­erty.

Shade-tol­er­ant plants, such as coleus, can add color and ap­peal to shady ar­eas of a land­scape.

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